What does the Preamble say?

This past Saturday night, I was visiting with a group of old friends. The excuse for the visit was a game of poker. But we never got around to that. We spent the entire evening in an intense political discussion about the current condition of the US and the rest of the world. The discussion got heated at times, but we all had a ball.

At one point the discussion turned to domestic issues, and more specifically, the welfare system. During that discussion, my friend Mark hit me with an old [canard](http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=canard.) He asked me to recite the Preamble to the Constitution (and thanks to [[School House Rock!]] I was able to oblige him [[:-)]]). When I got to the phrase “…promote the general welfare” he hit me with a knowing glance and said “Gotcha”. Well, he didn’t get me.
It’s time for the civics lesson of the week. The following, of course, is just in my humble opinion. I do not in any way consider myself to be a constitutional scholar.

But, be that as it may, I think it’s important to establish what the document actually says and not presume that we already know.

The first thing that it is important that we remember is that the men who wrote this document were educated scholarly men. They knew the meaning of words and chose their words very carefully. We cannot attach to their words any of our modern colloquial understanding of them.

Without further ado, read on to see my take on what the Preamble says.

First, the who:

**We the people** of the United States of America,

Now, the why:

in order to form a more perfect union,

And finally, the what:

“establish justice](http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=establish,) insure domestic tranquility,

I believe that this clause intends to define justice as peaceful society.

[provide](http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=provide) for the common defense,

The clause mandates that the union must provide national defense (i.e. armed forces).

“promote the general welfare](http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=promote,)

From the dictionary.com reference, I believe that the definition we need to pay attention to for *promote* is the second one: “to contribute to the progress or growth of; further. See Synonyms at advance.”

The mistake many of us make is our current association of the word *welfare* with our welfare system. There was no such thing when the document was written, so we must fall back on “Health, happiness, and good fortune; well-being. Prosperity.”.

So the framers wrote down that a responsibility of government was to provide an environment where the prosperity of its people is advanced.

Note that it does not say that the government must provide the prosperity. (Gotcha Mark [[:-)]]).

and [secure](http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=secure) the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity,

do “ordain and establish this constitution](http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=ordain) of the United States of America.